When Ryan Kesler spoke about winning – “That’s what I’m all about” – in the immediate aftermath of a long-anticipated trade that upstaged Friday’s NHL entry draft, it put the Vancouver Canucks’ future – long- and short-term – into clearer focus.
Kesler made it clear he asked to get out of Vancouver because he wanted to win a championship, and didn’t think it would happen with the Canucks any time soon.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Kesler said on a conference call with reporters. “I’m turning 30, and not only do I want to win the Stanley Cup, but I want to be a big part of winning a Stanley Cup. The fact that they’re in a rebuild, and are looking to get younger, and are years away from being a contender, I think it was just time for me to move on – and win.”
Kesler’s desire to leave Vancouver put the Canucks’ new general manager, Jim Benning, in a tough spot – and under the circumstances, he did very well for his team. The Ducks gave up two players off their roster, centre Nick Bonino and defenceman Luca Sbisa, along with the 24th overall pick in the current draft. The Ducks also gave up a third-rounder in the 2014 draft, but got back Vancouver’s third-rounder in 2015 to complete the deal.
Benning also traded defenceman Jason Garrison to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a second-round draft choice, and then immediately flipped the pick to the New York Rangers in exchange for tough-guy winger Derek Dorsett.
The Canucks made a serious pitch to acquire the No. 1 overall pick from the Florida Panthers, but were unable to do so and ended up drafting winger Jake Virtanen of the Calgary Hitmen with the sixth pick. When the dust had settled, the Canucks were younger and probably a step further removed from the Stanley Cup. Their 2011 run now seems like a long time ago.
Kesler confirmed that the Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks were his destinations of choice, but “saying that, there were other teams on my list previously. But I was on the fence with them, with coaching changes and whatnot. To be honest, I was only asked to waive my no-trade to Anaheim. I guess a deal was done and it happened fast. It caught me by surprise. But I’m happy that it happened today.”
According to Benning, Bonino is slotted to replace Kesler as the Canucks’ No. 2 centre, and they believe that Sbisa can eventually evolve into a top-four stay-at-home defenceman.
“Given the whole big picture, we were pretty happy at the end of the day,” said Benning, who added of Kesler: “We would have liked to keep him, but his mind was made up, so we did the best we could with the situation. Quite frankly, we don’t want somebody who doesn’t want to be here.”
In Kesler, the Ducks receive a player with the sort of snarl missing from the lineup of a team that finished with 116 regular-season points, but lost in the second playoff round to the Los Angeles Kings. Kesler has played a remarkable number of games over the past half-dozen seasons, considering all his physical problems – torn labrums in both shoulders and his hip.
The Ducks had previously made a pitch for Kesler at the trading deadline, but were only prepared to give up second-rounders and prospect Devante Smith-Pelly.
Kesler has a reputation as an occasionally moody player, but his playoff compete level is high. In 2011, when the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup final, playing a lot of the time injured, he still managed 19 points in 25 games. Kesler had 43 points in 77 games last season, but if the Ducks swing him into Bonino’s spot on the first power-play unit, those totals should increase.
Still, it was his playoff pedigree, not Kesler’s ability to produce regular-season points, that made the Ducks bite on him.
“Because of the way he plays, he plays so hard, there are going to be injuries,” said Ducks’ general manager Bob Murray, who also landed Nick Ritchie from the Peterborough Petes with the 10th overall pick. “We want him to play that way. We understand there could be injuries along the way. He’s the type of guy we need in the playoffs, let’s put it that way.”
Sbisa became a bargaining chip for the Ducks after the emergence of two other young defencemen in their system, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen. Sbisa played three junior seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, where he played a lot of games against a Medicine Hat Tigers team coached by Willie Desjardins, the new Canucks head coach.
Bonino was Anaheim’s third-leading scorer last season, behind Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and was second on the team in power-play goals with seven. He generally played on the first power-play unit, but in the playoffs was used mostly as the team’s fourth-line centre at even strength, coach Bruce Boudreau flipping him and Mathieu Perreault frequently up and down the depth chart, depending upon the match-ups he was looking for.Knowing the Ducks were after depth at centre, Bonino said he suspected that his name could be involved in any transaction that they might make.
“I knew they were players with [Jason] Spezza and Kesler, so it’s something you’re prepared for a little bit,” said Bonino, who acknowledged that it will be a culture shock, switching from laid-back Anaheim to hockey-crazed Vancouver. “It’s definitely going to be interesting. You come from Connecticut, where it’s pretty small and hockey’s growing, and going to Anaheim, it’s the same thing – there’s the diehard fans, but after that, it’s pretty much anonymity. It’s going to be exciting and a change of lifestyle for me, but being a hockey player, you love being in a hockey atmosphere like it is in Vancouver.”